Alf Dyrland, Captain of the MARY A. WHALEN, 1958-1978

Alf Dyrland Collection

By The Red Hook WaterStories team

Alf Dyrland was Captain of the MARY A. WHALEN from her rechristening in 1958 until 1978 when he retired. He was her first captain; she was his last boat.

Alf loved the MARY deeply.  As he lay dying in 1996, what he said out loud revealed to family in the room that, in his mind, he was back on the boat giving instructions.

Alf’s story is typical of many Norwegians of a certain era when men from coastal communities sailed away to work because economic opportunities were limited.  Alf left the tiny and very maritime town of Skudeneshavn at the age of 14, working as a cabin boy.

Alf sailed the oceans for several years before being sponsored to come to America by his uncle Karl of Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Alf arrived from the Pacific and first set foot in the States in San Francisco. He then sailed through the Panama canal to NYC.  He moved to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and worked his way up and become a captain.

Alf’s career had him participate in events of national historic significance, a major one being the union strike during WWII which the President of the United States ended by Executive Order on February 12, 1946 (see the telegram in this collection).  Another was when the MARY A. WHALEN went aground during Christmas 1968 – though he was not steering that day, the relief captain was –  and the grounding led to a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in an important decision in 1975, US vs Reliable Transfer.

Alf was known as a fair captain and a hardworking one who stepped up to the task. He took the MARY through one major storm where he steered for eight hours straight.

Alf is also representative of an era in New York Harbor, a long era of several decades, when Norwegians were a major presence.  They were known as skilled, hard-working mariners and frugal, modest folk. Alf’s engineer Hans Hansen was also Norwegian. “All those old Norwegians” is how many mariners who started working in the 1980’s describe the crew on Bushey boats like the MARY.

Alf’s descendants feel a strong connection to the ship.  An early memory of Alf’s daughter Karen Dyrland is her first visit to the wheelhouse and her father placing her hands on the wheel.  Karen’s husband, John Weaver, has been a board member of PortSide NewYork for many years.  Dyrland reunions have visited the tanker as a group, and many descendants follow the Mary A. Whalen on Facebook.

The collection below was generously donated by Karen Dyrland. She has donated all of her father’s papers to PortSide NewYork as well as many objects associated with the ship and his maritime career.

PortSide will be uploading more items to this collection as we scan them, taping more oral histories from the family, and will be adding additional information about the items over time.

To see photos and documents click here!

And to read more Waterstories presented by PortSide New York click here!


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